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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 December, 2004, 18:49 GMT
Aceh damage 'catastrophic'
The BBC's Rachel Harvey is one of the few western correspondents in Aceh, on the Indonesian island of Sumatra - the closest landmass to the epicentre of Sunday's earthquake.

I've never seen anything like this before. It's absolutely catastrophic.

Scene of devastation in Aceh
Some parts of Aceh have been literally flattened by the disaster
Right now, the emphasis in Banda Aceh is on trying to recover and bury the bodies which still litter the streets.

Thousands of extra troops have been drafted in to help.

In the space of 20 minutes I counted 10 trucks filled with bodies arriving at just one mass grave on the outskirts of town.

There was no ceremony, no formality - it's just a grim job that has to be done.

There are still people looking for loved ones, and because of the mass burials, they may never find them.

I'm not even convinced the authorities are able to keep up with counting the number of dead.

Refugees are seeking shelter wherever they can find it. Hundreds of families have set up home on a narrow strip of grass in the middle of the road.

Water is running low, food is running low and there is a desperate need for shelter.

Trucks dump bodies into mass grave
Soldiers have a new task - disposing of the dead
It may be hard to comprehend, but elsewhere in Aceh, the situation is even worse than it is here.

The true scale of the disaster in the south-west and among the string of small islands just off the coast is still not known.

No-one has been able to get there for days, although an Indonesian TV crew has flown over the town of Meulaboh - close to the epicentre of Sunday's earthquake - and reported widespread devastation.

The aerial pictures are absolutely staggering. It seems that nearly 80% of the town has been destroyed.

There are 95,000 people living in the town and officials say many thousands may have perished.

Five navy ships are said to be on their way to the area, and we should get a better impression about the scale of the disaster when they report back.

Aid effort

Some aid is getting into Banda Aceh now. Several Indonesian planes have arrived, as have flights from Australia and Malaysia.

But there needs to be some sort of central co-ordination.

Lots of groups are trying to help, but it doesn't feel like there's a big international effort yet.

Aceh is a province which is already suffering from conflict between separatist insurgents and the Indonesian government.

The soldiers that were sent to Aceh to fight rebels now have a new task - disposing of the dead.

I think most people are now desperate for help from anyone. If it comes from an Indonesian soldier, that's fine.

The conflict is now at the back of everyone's minds. People are fighting for survival - they haven't got time to fight among themselves.

Harrowing scenes of the tsunami striking Aceh


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